Man of Steel | 2013 | Screenplay by David S. Goyer | Story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer | Directed by Zack Snyder
Let me just say that I’m not a fanboy, so I’m not going to talk about how this reboot fits into the whole Superman canon.
Man of Steel begins at the beginning.
Krypton is on the verge of destruction. Good guy scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) feel obliged to protect the race. After much ado and a rather tepid face-off with bad guy General Zod (Michael Shannon), Jor-El and Lara manage to plant genetic data into their newborn son Kal-El and launch him towards Earth.
Kal-El, of course grows up to be Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), a wanderer-type who seems to have escaped from Herman Hesse’s depressed imagination. It takes him a fair amount of time to ‘become Superman,’ and it is in this that Man of Steel will test your patience.
We know that this is a reboot, so they’ll want to build (or rather, rebuild) Superman’s character. But I’m not entirely sure Snyder, Goyer and Nolan take the best route:
The film has a lengthy character introduction that continues for nearly an hour. You get to see Clark Kent struggle awkwardly with his powers. You get to see his foster parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) struggle even more awkwardly with his awkward struggles. Flashbacks are piled upon each other until you’re screaming for them to stop.
For the amount of time Snyder-Nolan-Goyer spend building him up, we feel shortchanged. They don’t go deep enough, and Superman doesn’t get dark enough. We know there’s more to Clark Kent, but what is it?
One positive outcome of this onslaught of memory and exposition is that when the action begins, we breathe a sigh of relief. This is where Man of Steel earns its two stars. It unravels with unleashed, unrelenting fury. If we spent the first hour watching Boy become Man, we spend the second hour watching Metropolis – and basically any solid object in sight – reduced to rubble. It’s a visual treat. We’re given the explosions we’re promised. As Susan Sontag said, ‘there is nothing like the thrill of watching all those expensive sets come tumbling down.’
That said, originality isn’t a part of the deal. There are glimpses of The Matrix, Independence Day and War of the Worlds in MOS’ visual style. Nothing that’s going to make you walk out, but it’s there. We see it.
Logic, too, seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind. It’s obvious that they want to make Lois Lane (Amy Adams) kick ass, but they bend the plot in order to do get her to do so: there is absolutely no reason for General Zod to have asked her aboard his ship at the time of Superman’s surrender. It appeared to be an afterthought both within the narrative and in its construction. If Lois hadn’t been on that ship, the movie might have ended there and then, and this makes the plot feel contrived.
It’s like they want to pile on the pressure and watch Lois buckle.
Henry Cavill makes a gorgeous Superman to look at, but the lack of depth in the story means not much is asked of its actors. Perhaps this is why Amy Adams and Michael Shannon are underutilized. These are not actors easily miscast. Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane do their bits and go home.
While it’s already been announced that both Snyder and Goyer will return for the sequel, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone new is brought on board in terms of story development. The scale at which Man of Steel is played out – planet versus planet – is going to be hard to beat. How would you make it ‘larger’ than this? One way would be to make it implode. Devise a character-driven story that is ‘larger internally’, but that means…character. Work.
Are Snyder and Goyer up to the challenge?
‘I have such doubts.’